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Classic game appreciation section: Soul Calibur

There aren't many games that can enthral a 70-something and her teenaged grandson in equal measure, but it did. And that's where Soul Calibur's design really shines. It's very easy to pull off spectacular moves, partly because every move looks amazing but also because the controls are intuitive.

Perhaps not as intuitive as Virtua Fighter 2's three-button system, but move height corresponds to direction pressed on the d-pad, meaning anyone can grasp the basics. For the advanced player, however, there's incredible depth here.

Take, for instance, the 8-way run feature, which allows you to attack while side-stepping your way around the arena with the Dreamcast's analogue stick. Where 'down' on the D-pad crouches, the same motion in the stick walks the character towards the screen. Every attack button has a different move assigned to 8-way run, making the movelist more varied and deep than anything seen until that point.

Above: Poor, poor Scissors - never stood a chance

Then there's the horizontal or vertical attack distinction. Vertical attacks are strong but can be sidestepped with quick reactions. Add in blocks, parries and throws and you're looking at a system that's arguably more complex than Virtua Fighter's. Not that my gran would know it as she hammered the buttons to an impressive (and annoying) victory.

Fishing for compliments

But there's another facet to this extraordinary control system – the fishing rod controller. The rod that came with Sega Bass Fishing could be used to perform moves in Soul Calibur, in a waggle-fest vastly pre-dating Nintendo's 'revolutionary' Wii. The official DC mag at the time even asked a martial arts expert to try it – and he found he could perform basic kendo moves with the device. Incredible.

Above: "Should we make other games work with this?" "Tennis might be good... anything else?" "...Nah, good point. Let's leave it."

With a sprawling story mode that added new rules and challenges to the regular gameplay (quicksand arenas, rats to bite your ankles, that sort of thing), the game had some serious meat to it compared to most fighters' arcade/vs/survival options.

It drip-fed extra content too, from beautiful artwork to new costumes for the characters, which meant your hard work was tangibly rewarded. That's on top of the extra skills you picked up by being forced to complete certain stages by applying advanced techniques.

It's back! Sort of...

I think it's very telling that when Soul Calibur was ported to XBLA in HD, its content was stripped-down and its original, antiquated 4:3 aspect ratio was very conspicuously preserved with huge borders at the sides of the screen.

Above: It's hard to get excited about a game when it's only filling two thirds of the screen

I'm certain SoulCalibur IV would have looked a far less-enticing prospect if the original game had been ported to HD in widescreen with online play and its Weapon Master single-player mode intact at a fraction of the new game's price.

As it is, however, the finest version of the game is still only available on Dreamcast. I know I said this wasn't going to be an article about that machine, so I won't bang on about it. Everyone got excited when Namco announced it would be releasing another game on Dreamcast, but instead of SoulCalibur II, we got Mr Driller. Still great, but not exactly what we were hoping for.

So Soul Calibur was a one-off on Dreamcast, but it's impact was arguably undiluted as a result. And its light still radiates out from the now increasingly distant gaming past, aging more gracefully than almost any other 3D game. Here's hoping SoulCalibur V can shine as brightly. Can it?

 

As far as I'm concerned, Soul Calibur's awesomely epic-sounding announcer dude was right: The legend will never die.

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14 comments

  • Balaska - December 2, 2011 2:30 a.m.

    @Japanaman the XBLA version is missing the epic story mode, the whole reason I was looking forward to it's release. The DC version has far more content than the XBLA version and is far superior. The XBLA is an insult to the fans.
  • pin316 - December 1, 2011 10:50 p.m.

    GR - i'm loving these articles...you've chosen some absolutely brilliant games for them! Soul Calibur is by far and away my favorite fighting series - nothing else comes close - with SC2 holding rank as the best of the lot. I'm holding out a lot of hope for V. They've got to include Team Vs Battles...still don't understand why it wasn't in IV
  • Helo1985 - December 1, 2011 1:13 p.m.

    I'm gonna be treating myself to £100 worth of retro games after xmas and after that write up i'm gonna be including this to that list
  • Overlord153 - December 1, 2011 12:22 p.m.

    I feel left out. I have a DreamCast. I have SoulCaliber II for my Gamecube. But I have No Soul Caliber I :(
  • CaptCOMMANDO - December 1, 2011 10:44 a.m.

    SOULS, COME'TH TO ME! I played the shite out of the Gamecube version and was a late to SCIV, but I am looking quite forward to number five.
  • mothbanquet - December 1, 2011 10:25 a.m.

    I'll never forget the time me and me best mate spent a solid eight hours on it taking turns at Weapon Master. Nor the hundreds of hours spent pummelling each other into submission, me as Cervantes, him as Nightmare, constantly trying to declare a decisive victor in our eternal struggle... SC, you will always be there to remind us why we had a Dreamcast at the time, and I salute you!
  • Japanaman - December 1, 2011 8:48 a.m.

    How is the XBLA version of SC stripped down? I bought SC for the DC last year and beat it entirely. The XBLA version offers everything already unlocked. I mean, sure, there's less to do now, but why make people have to beat a game twice? I think the XBLA port is wonderful.
  • Larry Legdrop - December 1, 2011 8:26 a.m.

    I haven't had my soul since I sold it back in the earl 90's...WHHHHHYYYYYYY!! : ^ (
  • DirkSteele1 - December 1, 2011 7:52 a.m.

    My girlfriend at the time gave Soul Calibur for Christmas 1999 for my newly acquired Dreamcast that I had bought on the 21st of Dec. I took it round to her house on Boxing day where her extended family were having a Christmas get together. Her mother had purchased half a dozen board games and the like for entertainment but none were ever opened. Everyone from the 12 year old little sister to the 75 year old grandmother played for SC for hours. Definitely my all time favourite game on DC (and in my top 5 of all time), and yes Seong-Mina was beautiful in the first game. She was my favourite character back then but since Namco saw fit to change her move set in recent iterations of the game I am no longer a fan.
  • SDHoneymonster - December 1, 2011 7:50 a.m.

    Screw the game - your gran sounds ridiculously cool!
  • GR_JustinTowell - December 1, 2011 8:11 a.m.

    Haha! Thanks, she is :)
  • GhostbustTyler - December 1, 2011 7:38 a.m.

    Anytime I go over to the arcade near me, I spend all my money on this game and the Jurassic Park shooter. This game is simply a masterpiece and is one of the best fighters I've ever been able to play.
  • Pytor - December 1, 2011 7:36 a.m.

    One of the finest games ever crafted!
  • bass88 - December 1, 2011 7:03 a.m.

    Great write-up! I love this game. It stands alongside Street Fighter II as my favourite fighting game. What impresses me so much is how balanced it is. No matter what fighter you pick, you will have strengths that counter your oppenents' weaknesses. And vice-versa. Something, I feel, that Street Fighter IV failed it (still a great game, mind). There are too many characters, some of which are vastly overpowered.

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